Sunday, August 26, 2007

Adventures Galore

Hi everyone! Sorry I've been so bad about posting lately. This will be a quick post, but I need to give you the update on mythree phases you've missed:

Eastern European Grand Tour

I took a 10-day vacation adventure across Eastern Europe with my coworker Malgosia and her boyfriend, and it was amazing. We spent 5 days in Montenegro and the rest of the time getting there and back, hitting up:
  • Romania
  • Bulgaria
  • Macedonia
  • Kosovo
  • Montenegro
  • Croatia
  • Bosnia & Herzegovina
  • and Serbia

along the way. Beautiful, beautiful scenery, especially in the Montenegrin town of Kotor where we stayed. Its auto-free old town complete with cobblestone alleyways, limestone buildings, and relaxing sidewalk cafes was a great break from the slightly more bustling Chisinau. Check out the view of I snapped while hiking up an old fortress on the hills above the city.

Last week of work

I finished up my job with the UNDP last week. I need some more time to reflect on my experience, but I'd say my main takeaways are:

  • I'm still really interested in international development

  • I still love the concept of finding ways for the private sector to support the poor and make money at the same time (e.g. sustainable sourcing, marketing products needed by the poor, etc.)

  • I'd like to find ways to work on these issues independently from big, international aid organizations. While working for the UN definitely confers many benefits, I think it might not be for me.

Turkey and Greece!

I met up with my college roommate Katie in Istanbul yesterday, and now we have 10 days to explore Turkey, eventually making our way across some islands over to Athens. When she flies out of there next week, I have 10 more ways to make my way back to Chisinau before flying back to school.

I probably won't be posting much but I'll try to give an update or two. Hope you're all doing well, wherever you are!

Friday, August 10, 2007

I (heart) Strategery

Last week we had some visitors from the UNDP “Growing Sustainable Business” regional headquarters in Bratislava. The regional program coordinator and a consultant are doing the rounds, spending a week with the GSB initiative in each of its locations in the area (Albania, Bosnia, Macedonia, Moldova, Serbia, and Turkey) to do a strategic review of the program’s model and how it should proceed going forward. This was actually one of the highlights of the internship for me – though I do like doing the operational stuff, it was especially cool to take a step back and think more strategically about the best way to partner with the private sector to attack poverty.

The GSB initiative was started just a few years ago, rolling out to a few countries in an initial pilot program. It’s really interesting to take a look at what the various GSB “Brokers” (one on the ground in each country) have done with this light-touch model that encourages identifying and facilitating innovative ways for the private sector to act in a way that benefits both itself and the poor. The major ways in which they’ve done this have been:

  • Developing local supply chains (e.g. our Wool Project, which simultaneously increases incomes for local farmers and saves cash for local yarn producers)
  • Helping companies market products/services to the poor (e.g. microinsurance, gas stoves)
  • Connecting local producers with foreign purchasers (e.g. our Wine Export Project)
  • Facilitating foreign investment (e.g. identifying foreign investors interested in funding a Moldovan bio-ethanol plant that will provide a large buyer for local corn crops – and be great for the environment!)
  • Creating jobs (e.g. our Internet Translation Platform project)

As you can see, this “just get out there and try something” approach has really led to an interesting diversity of projects. However, as the program matures and expands, it’s time to rationalize the project portfolio somewhat, or at least think more strategically about the most efficient ways to use the limited GSB resources to select and support high-impact projects.

Luckily, the consultant hired to think about this is great. She’s an MBA with experience both working at McKinsey and working as a GSB Broker in Africa, so she really understands the program’s strengths and limitations. We had several long conversations about what the initiative’s ideal structure would look like (e.g., a stronger regional office role in projects working to attract foreign investors), which really made me think more deeply about the best ways to engage the private sector in supporting development. Ideally, they’d figure this out themselves more often; as you can see with my examples above, it’s in business’s best interest to undertake these types of projects – not just for fuzzy PR-type benefits, but for actual cost savings and revenue generation. However, as all consultants know, sometimes businesses need a little push in figuring out and implementing even the things that are in their best interest. So now I’m doing a lot of thinking about the best ways to give them the push they need. The UNDP GSB program is a great start, but there’s definitely room for a lot more to be done in this area – and it's definitely an exciting field to be in!

Fun Times

Sorry that I haven’t posted in over a week! My fans (hi, Mom!) have been demanding more, so here’s the quick update on my life in Moldova:

  • I met up with a friend in Prague last weekend and it was GREAT! Amazing city, amazing weather, amazing beer. :) We even saw the opera Don Giovanni in the theater where it premiered in 1787. And it wasn’t boring at all…it was actually kinda hilarious! Definitely a highlight.
  • I read the new (and final) Harry Potter - WOW! It was fantastic. I cried at least 5 times. Don’t judge me for that until you’ve read it yourself, by the way…there’s really some tragic stuff in there.
  • I went to a friend’s birthday party and was chatting with his friend about local vineyards – until she realized that she’d already read my blog post about my Purcari visit. I’m a local celebrity, I tell you.
  • My boss and I were supposed to go to Albania next week to take first steps toward replicating some of our projects there. Of course, given that we’d be over that way, we had to plan a side trip to the beach in Montenegro. Now the Albania trip got axed but since the Montenegro trip’s already all planned, we’re leaving this afternoon for a little holiday anyway. Ah, life is good. :)

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Job creation and Village life

Last weekend I went to visit my Peace Corps Volunteer friend Katie in Gura Bicului, the village where she’s volunteering for 2 years. After a scenic 90-minute bus ride, I hopped out in her 6000-person village, ready to experience local life. I discovered that there aren’t many young adults, as most people in their 20’s leave to go to college in Chisinau or (more likely) to work abroad. 25% of working-age Moldovans (10% of the entire population) are working abroad, which leaves small villages full of old people taking care of their grandkids. There are educated people in Moldova – even from the small villages, as infrastructure’s not too bad so people are fairly mobile within the country and there aren’t too many extremely remote places – but there just aren’t enough good jobs to keep them here. Why be unemployed (or a small plot farmer) when you can work for minimum wage in Italy and send home enough dough to support your whole family? This is a problem, though, because Moldova will have a hard time pulling itself up by its bootstraps if nobody’s here to pull. The solution needs to include some sort of job creation here in Moldova, but this is obviously easier said than done.

I’m working on several projects that have the potential to create these jobs, such as our Internet Translation Platform Project. This project brings a Moldovan call center company with experience in working with international customers together with various Moldovan translation companies that have lots of language skills (Russian, Romanian, English, French…) to create a one-stop online shop selling low-cost, high-quality translation services abroad. Moldovan translators make about $250/month, as opposed to the $80/month many of the other (limited) young-but-educated positions (e.g. teachers) are paid, so these quality jobs are really needed. Hopefully this project will be a stop in the right direction toward giving Moldovans opportunities to stay here in Moldova and be successful.

So anyway, back to me. :) What does one do for fun during a weekend in the village, you may ask? Well, I can tell you how I spent my 40 hours there:

  • 20 hours sleeping/napping
  • 4 hours sitting on the porch, watching kittens play
  • 1 hour procuring ingredients for placinta, (pla-cheen-ta), a delish typical Moldovan dish – imagine a dinner-plate-size deep-fried empanada you cut into wedges and devour. Ingredient procurement included figuring out who in the ‘hood had cows and thus would be a good source for our filling of choice: “brinza de vaca” (cow cheese). I think this was difficult because you wouldn’t normally attempt to get an ingredient like that on demand – you’d either make it yourself or else wait for it to come to you during the weekend market.
  • 1 hour learning to make placinta

  • 2 hours eating a gourmet dinner featuring our homemade placinta, homemade chicken noodle soup, and the ubiquitous homemade red wine. When I mentioned that I’m not too into the homemade wine here, I neglected to mention the method of consumption: you shoot it. That’s right – your host fills everyone’s 2-oz glass cup, you toast, you down the whole thing, and then 10 minutes later you refill and repeat. Like I said, people here like their alcohol.
  • 1 hour learning to play the accordion. Natural talent can apparently be augmented with homemade wine consumption. (Or maybe wine consumption just lowers musical standards…either way, I sounded fabulous!)
  • 3 hours sitting in the kitchen talking to Otilia, the woman who owns the house Katie’s living in, and Luba and Dimitrash, the grandma/grandson who are also living there. Otilia is a psychology professor in Chisinau, and Luba’s a workaholic employed by the government in a nearby town.
  • 1 hour buying snacks to eat by the river. This takes a while because the shopkeepers love to talk. This woman spent 15 minutes bursting with pride that Katie was conversational in Romanian – “Those Russians have been here fifty years and they still can’t speak our language!” (Although she was one of the only shopkeepers with a high-tech electronic scale instead of balance scales, she still rocked the abacus for adding up our total.)

  • 6 hours chilling on the banks of the Dniester River with a beer in hand, watching Moldovan kids in speedos splash around on one side and Transdniestrian kids in speedos splash around on the other. I almost swam across to Transdniestria but got too lazy.
  • 1 hour at the Saturday market, which Domna Otilia recommended we should check out because “it has everything today!” “Everything” consisted of 10 people selling a narrow range of produce and other items – Katie bought fresh milk (boil before use), flypaper, and plastic sandals, and I bought a made-in-China shirt for $5. It was really supposed to be a little girl’s dress, but whatevs.

Wanna come visit?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Recipe for a Moldovan rock concert

Imagine you’re at the Warped Tour, rocking out to various incarnations of punk/ska/metal/rock in a sea of punky teens and other random concertgoers. (Sidenote 1: Warped Tour is a great concert festival that travels around the US every summer. I haven’t been since 2001, so this post assumes it hasn’t changed too much since then.) Now make the following amendments to the scene and you’ll know just what it’s like to attend the annual “Rock Festival Stary Melnik” in Chisinau, Moldova:

  • Put away your wallet. Entry for the 10am-11pm concert is only 20 lei (~$1.50)
  • Replace the sponsor. Instead of Vans (American skate shoe company), Stary Melnik (Russian beer company) is the headline sponsor. Keep in mind that this means there are people everywhere with tall half-liter cans of beer. Including, in some cases, small children. No, these are not early-years DJ and Steffi Tanner – they’re 8-12 year-olds drinking beer. With their mother.
  • Remove all souvenir stands and side stages. Which is fine because two main stages rock hard enough to carry the whole show.
  • Remove all garbage cans. The ground works fine.
  • Choose a venue with twice as much square footage per concertgoer. With plenty of space to get our groove on, my new Russian teacher Katya and her friends and I had a great time.
  • Forget English. All singing is in Russian or Romanian. Which isn’t always all that noticeable in these genres.
  • Add a fair number of punky Euro-mullets. They’re actually pretty cool. (I’m not kidding.)
  • When Moldovan superstars Zdob si Zdub come on, stop moshing and start dancing the hora! While you may only be familiar with the Israeli/Jewish version you’ve busted out to Hava Nagila at Bar Mitzvahs and weddings, there’s also an awesome Romanian/Moldovan version. And what better soundtrack for this than Zdob si Zdub, the Moldovan punk/folk entry to (and 6th place winner of!) the 2005 Eurovision Song Contest. (Sidenote 2: This televised contest pitting European nations’ singers and songs against each other has been running for over 50 years and draws hundreds of millions (!) of viewers each year. Placing was a proud moment for Moldova in its first year of participation.)

FUN, right?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Anyone need a wife? (No, not me.)

I get about 30 hits every weekday now, less than half of which are from returning visitors, and have been stumbled upon by several people here in Chisinau – some whom I knew beforehand, some whom have contacted me since. While I definitely have mixed feelings about this – it’s cool yet a little creepy to have strangers reading all about you – my new favorite hobby is finding out how people end up at my blog. Check out these recent Google searches that have brought people to me:

  • Location: Spooner, Wisconsin
    ISP: New York Public Library (?)
    Search: pizza cheese market in Moldova
  • Location: Ireland
    Search: a taste of my life
  • Location: Bratislava, Slovakia
    Search: say hello in moldovan
  • Location: Macedonia
    Search: sheep sector in Moldova
  • Location: Caracas, Venezuela
    Google Blog Search: Pridnestrovie OR "Igor Smirnov" OR Transnistria OR Transdniester OR Tran
  • Location: Littleton, Colorado
    Search: peace corps moldova address
  • Location: Douglasville, Georgia
    Search: tips for young ladies
  • Location: Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam
    Search: “caro” “fashion”
  • Location: Moscow, Russia
    Search: (hidden) – sketchy!
  • Location: Amsterdam, Netherlands
    Search: lover in chisinau
  • Location: Istanbul, Turkey
    Search: moldovya love
  • Location: New York, New York
    Search: moldovan women

As these last few imply, many searches about Moldova also seem to be about meeting eligible bachelorettes. Which may or may not be related to this story: When I was in the US Embassy’s “Consular Services” waiting room today, waiting for extra pages to be added to my passport, the only other person there was a man who acted sorta jumpy and clueless and sounded like he was straight from the American South. He was very concerned that his new wife wouldn’t be able to get into the U.S. when she flew over a few weeks after he did. Wonder how they met....

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The warm breeze of Communism....

Q: What’s up with these bad Moldovan ads?

A: As my Moldovan friend explained, advertising is a new industry here – back when the people creating the ads were in school, nowhere taught even basic marketing classes. Just a few decades ago, Moldova was part of the USSR and there wasn’t much need for strategic marketing of any sort, particularly advertising. There was no point – nobody really had a choice of what to buy since everything was centrally planned, so there was no need to extol the virtues of your product. Interesting, right?

On a related note, the other day my Polish officemate was reminiscing about watching TV while growing up in Warsaw. Without fail, the weatherman always reported nasty cold fronts blowing in from the West and wonderful warm air coming over from Russia....

Monday, July 23, 2007

Weekend getaway

This weekend, my coworker Malgosia, her boyfriend, another friend, and I took a trip to the Purcari winery a few hours south of Chisinau. After a private tour, we had a nice little wine tasting with samples of eight of the winery’s finest (poured generously and refilled as desired), and finished the evening off with a delicious dinner washed down with more free-flowing wine. (See what I mean? – Moldovans take their drinking seriously.) Though I know approximately less than zero about wine, I somehow managed to love the two wines that are apparently typical American favorites: the Purcari Sauvignon Blanc and the “Rosu.” I was a huge fan of the fact that bottles could be purchased for approximately $5 each in the gift shop. I was not, however, a huge fan of the Cahor wine – a port-like sweeeeeet (like sugar, not like fabulous) concoction that’s purportedly a Moldovan specialty. I’m sure it’s great, but I just can’t roll with it personally.

We spent the night in Purcari’s hotel, a beautiful place on the beautiful winery grounds, and then drove down to the Ukrainian seaside the next day. In concept: great idea. In practice: sorta miserable.

(a) I haven’t yet mentioned that it’s been over a hundred degrees here every day for the past few weeks. While this sounds like great weather for going to the beach, it’s not. It’s just too hot.

(b) The water was full of weird fuzzy seaweed and hundreds of little jellyfish. I’ve never been squeamish about sea creatures, but splashing around without waves and with abundant unappealing aquatic flora and fauna didn’t make for a great time in the water. And without going in the water, you basically melt. (See (a).)

(c) The beach was full of (sometimes large) people in (frequently small/tight/creative) swimwear. Especially the men. I’m all for comfort, but boys, promise me that when you’re 70 you won’t wear baggy gray briefs in the sea!

One of mys weekend highlights was sharing some important American culture with my Polish friends: when we stopped by the side of the road for some watermelon, I started a seed-spitting contest. While the crowd started out quite skeptical, Malgosia really got into it. And who says Americans don’t have culture?

Scenes from the wine tour, and a 6-Speedo shot from the beach. Ah, Europe....

Thursday, July 19, 2007

“Alcohol may be man's worst enemy, but the bible says love your enemy.”

Moldova sure seems agree with Frank Sinatra on this one....

Advertised on giant billboards downtown and available for purchase all over the place, beer is sort of like water here. But sometimes cheaper. You can buy it at stands in the park. It’s on tap at McDonald’s. I’ve generally been talked out of ordering it at bars and other alcohol-oriented situations – it’s mostly been something to drink with dinner (or in the van on road trips.)

As wine is one of Moldova’s largest industries, it’s a big deal here. People are very proud of Moldovan wine, and hopefully the industry will be able to recover from the hit it’s taken from Russia’s 2006 ban on Moldovan wine imports. (Wine exports to Russia made up 13% of Moldovan exports and 3% of its GDP, so this is not a minor problem. The country’s working on convincing Russia to lift the ban, and on finding alternate markets, but Moldovan wine’s sweetness apparently makes it hard to market most places. Also, many producers are hindered by inconsistent quality due to the fact they buy grapes in small quantities from various farmers rather than rigorously cultivating their own vineyards.) Though there is some excellent wine produced here, that doesn’t seem to be what people usually drink when just chilling at home with friends – then the wine of choice is homemade and poured out of reused soda/water bottles. I’m certainly no wine connoisseur, but I just can’t get into the stuff personally.

This is what many of my Moldovan coworkers order at bars. People have been responsive to my idea to order orange juice to drink as a chaser, but they wouldn’t do it themselves – they seem to be more into straight vodka shots. And the tiny chain supermarket on my corner stocks dozens and dozens of different brands of vodka. (So many that I stopped counting because I felt weird intently scrutinizing the vodka section for so long.) I couldn’t find any good data on alcoholism in Moldova, but it’s often cited as a large (and growing) problem here. And last month, one of my American friends emailed me to say that he had read that Moldova has the third highest per capita consumption of pure alcohol in the world (after Luxembourg and Ireland) at 13 liters – and Oxford Journal on Alcohol places this figure at 25 liters per adult resident.

When it comes to drinking, Moldovans don’t mess around....

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

White in a sea of whiteness

I’ve never been in a developing country full of white people before.

This may seem like something that should have no relevance, but in a way, it does. Not because it makes the people on the street here any different than the people I saw on the street while living in Guatemala, for instance, or in China, but because it makes me different standing next to them. I don’t automatically stand out as being unusual. Sure, when it comes down to it, I’m sure I still stand out in a crowd as a foreigner to some degree – I probably dress a little funny and I certainly don’t speak like a local – but I’m not walking around with a scarlet F blazing from my forehead. My skin’s not a sign of wealth or privilege, because the poor and the underprivileged have the same skin I do.

It’s funny how this creates a new sort of equal footing. Now I’m not trying to imply that I’ve been on some other level than the people of other ethnic backgrounds I’ve met or worked with other places – that’s not it. It’s just that race isn’t really salient here – I’m not automatically the white girl, the gringa, the farang, etc. I’m just another person.

Even in the US, I’ve found that when I volunteer, I’m often serving people of color, a fact which has a certain weight to it. Not that there aren’t poor white people in the US – there certainly are – but I usually volunteer in urban settings, where the faces around me are generally non-white. And I sometimes fear that this can give a touch of an awkwardly patronizing quality to my efforts, especially when combined with a difference in socioeconomic status. Like when Melanie and I lead our class in the East Palo Alto Boys & Girls Club. We’re white and from a nice suburb. Our girls aren’t. Because of this, I sometimes fear our classes smack a bit of “oh, here come the rich white girls who know it all” – there’s no denying the class would be a different experience for the girls if Melanie and I were black, for instance. But we’re not, which brings differences, both bad and good. I definitely think it makes some of the girls feel like they can relate to us less. But it also brings a certain extra diversity to the class, which can be great – one of our girls literally wrote “white people are nicer than I thought” in her journal at the end of class one day. (Ah, I love kids.) :)

So anyway, I guess what I’m saying is race is always there, whether you think of it as important or not. And here everyone is white. Because of that, I don’t really blame people here for not knowing how to deal with race – I have to admit that when I saw an Asian girl in a restaurant the other day, my own first thought was “hmm, what’s her story?” – but I do try to educate people as much as I can. Not that I’m some great speaker of truth, but you gotta tell the world what you believe, right?


Moldovan, during a lull in the conversation: So what about those black people?

Carolyn: What about them?

Moldovan: (Considers for a moment) Well, they’re lazy

Carolyn: Yeah, about as lazy as white people

Moldovan: That guy I told you about who always came to work late when I was in Chicago, he was black

Carolyn: Hmmm. Well, I know plenty of black people who aren’t lazy

Moldovan: Yeah, I guess. Once we were on this bus in Chicago and a black man asked us where we were from and we said “Russia” and he told us all this Russian history and we had no idea what he was talking about because even we don’t know that stuff. He was a professor. Maybe he wasn’t so lazy….


I’m sure I make off-base generalizations about topics I don’t have much personal experience with, too, which is why I feel a sort of responsibility to try to educate others in the way I hope others will educate me.

So to sum things up: being the “same” as everyone here, at least on this one dimension, is pretty interesting. It definitely makes me get stared at (and hit on) less on the streets. :)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Corporate Social Responsibility around the world

The conference I attended last week was all about the media’s role in Corporate Social Responsibility. It raised some interesting questions (“How should/can the media cover CSR?” “How can media corporations engage in CSR themselves?”) and created a nice dialogue on the subject, but I felt that all in all, it left me without too many answers. Though to the conference’s credit, this probably isn’t its fault – this is clearly a tricky and emerging area, and it’s often unclear what kind of moral obligations are at play here.

Ethical responsibilities aside, companies across the world are creatively finding ways to have positive social impacts that also increase their bottom lines by doing things such as

  • Reducing costs (and negative environmental impact) through recycling efforts and increased efficiency of resource use
  • Creating higher-quality and more consistent input/labor supplies by investing in their supply chains (e.g. Starbucks’ work with coffee farmers) and education in local communities
  • Marketing their “socially responsible” actions to consumers who care, giving them an edge over competition

Check out these fascinating reports on the benefits of CSR – they’re by Goldman Sachs, McKinsey, and the UN, and are quite good reads.

This is something that is just starting to register on the developed world’s radar screens, and is often considered even less in the developing world. However, there can be special benefits to undertaking such initiatives here; for instance, showing off corporate responsibility can help overcome foreign skepticism for companies located in post-communist countries, attracting foreign investment and enabling lower financing costs and risk premiums. An important first step to realizing these benefits is recognizing that they exist, so media really does have the potential to help push CSR forward by raising awareness.

Learn more about CSR in the region in the most recent issue of the UNDP and LSE’s joint publication “Development & Transition.” While you’re there, check out two even more interesting articles: one questioning the good microfinance is really doing in Southeast Europe, and the other debating the merits and limitations of introducing “countercyclical financial instruments” in transition economies – for instance, linking returns on government bonds to GDP in order to share risk with investors, keep debt/GDP ratios relatively stable, and reduce likelihood of debt and currency crises. Interesting idea, right?

Last thought on the CSR tip. I just finished reading Don DeLillo’s Underworld and the first paragraph of the epilogue struck me:

“Capital burns off the nuance in a culture. Foreign investment, global markets, corporate acquisitions, the flow of information through transnational media, the attenuating influence of money that’s electronic and sex that’s cyberspaced, untouched money and computer-safe sex, the convergence of consumer desire – not that people want the same things, necessarily, but that they want the same range of choices.”

Now I’m obviously not of the anti-globalization camp, and I certainly wouldn’t want to limit people’s choices just to force them to “keep their culture” – but I am saddened by the thought of diminishing our world’s amazing cultural diversity. This raises the question of whose responsibility it is to protect tradition midst the increasing flows of capital eroding “cultural nuance” in our ever-globalizing world. Do the companies bringing the capital have some sort of obligation here? Or should governments intervene in some way? One could definitely argue that in a free market, culture will remain intact to the extent that people value it so we shouldn’t worry – but I fear this is a somewhat short-sighted view. People’s choices may optimize their own utility but not that of future generations, for instance. In this case, what responsibility do companies/governments/citizens have in protecting cultures without blocking personal freedoms? I have to think about this one….

Monday, July 16, 2007

Fun in Kiev

I got to tag along with the UNDP Moldova delegation to the UN’s “Corporate Social Responsibility and the Media” conference held in Kiev, Ukraine, last week, and was lucky to have enough free time there to get a taste of the city. I’ll summarize my personal highlights of the past few days in this post, and tell you all more about the actual content of the conference later this week. First things first. :)

They say they’re an independent country. The rest of the world (Moldova included), says they’re just a region of Moldova. This causes a number of major complications for both nations/regions, and a few interesting situations for travelers. For instance: when you pass from the rest of Moldova to Transdniestria, Moldova won’t concede you’re leaving the country…but when you pass from Trasnsdniestria to Ukraine, the Transdniestrian border patrol won’t concede you’re even in Moldova…so driving from Moldova to Ukraine and back, you never officially leave or re-enter Moldova. (Interesting for tourists, potentially lucrative for arms traders and other shady characters….) I didn’t pass through any Transdniestrian cities, so the only noticeable differences between the half-hour drive across the region and the rest of my journey were thirty minutes of slightly bumpier roads and significantly ickier bathrooms alongside. I wanted to snap some pix at the border but was told by my vanmates that being seen doing so could have very negative repercussions for me. To get a flavor of the experience, just imagine having your passport checked by a stern Angelina Jolie lookalike in camo fatigues and a beret in the middle of expansive sunflower fields.

“The National Museum of the History of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 Years”
Former Soviet States don’t talk about “WWII” – they instead call it the “Great Patriotic War” and focus only on the Axis-USSR portions. Kiev’s museum on the subject is probably the coolest museum I’ve ever visited…and I say this despite the fact that it was all in Russian so I only understood about 0.1% of the signage. History museums are getting so beautiful these days, and this one surpassed the also-really-cool Hong Kong History Museum on my list of personal faves because of its stunning presentation of WWII artifacts. Below see part of the photo tribute to fallen Ukrainian soldiers (honored as “Heroes of the Soviet Union”), and the entryway’s summary of the entire museum: a fallen, broken German eagle.

Kiev Statues
Kiev definitely doesn’t forget Soviet times, and the city’s statues don’t let you forget, either. The “Mother Motherland” statue overlooking the river in the middle of the city is very large, very silver, and very intense – holding a sword and a shield adorned with the coat of arms of the Soviet Union, she rises 100m over the city and is 1.5 times taller than the Statue of Liberty. Really, don’t mess with this chick. Also, the Lenin statue here is in the middle of the city, unlike the one hidden in the depths of a park in Chisinau, and brightly-painted tanks make an urban playground for small children.

Pechersk Lavra
One of Ukraine’s four UNESCO World Heritage Sites, this Orthodox Christian monastery includes churches, belltowers, and an amazing 1000-year-old system of narrow underground corridors and chapels. I roamed the tourist-accessible portion of these “caves” – but only after buying a (required) scarf to respectfully cover my hair and a small candle to light my way. All in all, I don’t know which creeped me out more: (a) the numerous glass boxes containing priests’ mummies wrapped in ornately-colored cloths, or (b) the fact I found the monks to be so young and good-looking. Chill, girl – they’re monks.

General Kiev culture
Though none of these are exactly newsworthy on their own, all the little things I did in Kiev really made me love the city. I walked through parks, admired the architecture, sipped tea in sidewalk cafes (where everyone else seemed to be on free wi-fi), went to a great little art gallery opening, shopped up a storm, took convenient public transportation (including visiting the “world’s deepest metro station” 102m underground), and enjoyed the sunny (though occasionally rainshowery) weather. Nice place!

I’ll leave you with a few closing pictures: general scenery, architecture, and me partaking in some Georgian wine (and hats) with a fellow conference attendee, a reporter for the Georgian (the country, not the state) publication Financial.

Oh, and I don't know why this last one cracked me up so much, but check out the sign for the Mexican restaurant where we ate one night: "Tequila House" written in Cyrillic. :)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Moldovan Fashion Tips for Young Ladies

  • Wear it short
  • Wear it tight
  • Wear it low-cut
  • Feel free to expose your midriff
  • Accessorize! (Bonus points for designer labels)


  • Worry about looking trashy – it’s not trashy when it’s a cultural norm!
  • Fear less-than-perfectly-maintained sidewalks. I don’t know how you do it, but I guess when your 4-inch heels look that good, a few potholes won’t be able to bring you down
  • Forget the colors, patterns, ruffles, shimmer, and sparkles! Go all out, girl.

Ok, maybe it’s not quite as extreme as I make it sound – there are plenty of women on the street who could easily fit in on any US sidewalk – but check out these samples snapped downtown mid-afternoon:

Yes, those may have been among the more extreme outfits on the street, and yes, I’ve been known to hooch it up even more than that personally on a number of occasions. (Vegas FOAM, anyone?) It just seems scandalous to me here because women go all out in contexts I wouldn’t. Just like I’m sure that when women from some cultures come to the US, they’re shocked by our public exposure of things they’d only show in their own homes. But because this is my blog, my (completely arbitrary) standard of propriety is espoused. The same standard, incidentally, that stared – 50% scandalized by the outfits, 50% envious of the bodies – at women’s get-ups last time I was in South Beach. So it's not just here. But it's also not just me – even Moldovans make fun of the different sense of style....

Moldovan friend: Is that woman Moldovan?
Carolyn: No, she’s American.
(a few hours pass)

Carolyn: That woman sure dresses up, doesn’t she? She looks so fancy.
Friend: She looks like a hooker. (Pauses) That’s why I thought she was Moldovan.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

I love being a tourist sometimes

I had one of those relaxing-yet-exhausting tourist weekends checking out Chisinau and some surrounding areas. Highlights included:

Exploring the somber 19th-century cottage of exiled Russian poet Pushkin and then buying a hot bikini in the city’s central open-air market (no joke, though since this is a wholesome, family-friendly blog, I’m including a pic of some nutritious grains instead.)

Paying respects at the monument to Chisinau’s many Jewish “martyrs and victims,” inscribed in Romanian, Russian, and Hebrew – in 1913, 35% of Chisinau was Jewish; today only 3% is. Before WWII, there were over 70 synagogues in Chisinau, each serving a different trade. This one used to be for glassblowers – now it’s the only one left for everyone.

Pretending to command the troops in the midst of an incredible collection of Soviet tanks and fighter planes inherited by Moldova’s armed forces, now on display in a random little park:

Wandering through the city cemetery and its various monuments to fallen soldiers:

Watching spectacular fireworks set to some intense Wagner in honor of 07/07/07 (though I just pretended it was a belated 4th of July celebration…) with my friends Igor and Adrian:

Touring the Cave Monastery with Cristina – carved into a cliff 40km north of Chisinau, these remote caves were dug in the 13th century and inhabited by monks until the 18th. Downside to living here: low ceilings so you don’t forget to bow your head to God. Upside: great views!

Checking out all the cool old religious stuff around the caves. And I unfortunately couldn’t snap a good shot during the tumultuous ride through it, but I swear the neighboring town is Borat’s. Seriously – if I didn’t know that movie was filmed in Romania, I would put money on it.

Returning to Chisinau to get acquainted with my pal Lenin and chill by the lake in one of the city’s many urban oases.

Also, lots of urban wandering, sidewalk-cafĂ© sitting, and park-bench reading, of course. Now that’s a great weekend. :)

Friday, July 6, 2007

A taste of my life

Several of you have asked questions about the minutia of my everyday life in Moldova – which I like, because it gives me an excuse to ramble about the details of my current existence. :) I’ll answer with a few lists. I love making lists.

My fave Moldovan foods - yum!

  • Mamaliga with brinza (Moldovan grits and cheese)
  • Skewers of all varieties (Chicken and veggies, lavash stuffed with cheese, etc.)
  • Fresh Moldovan produce (Amazing)
  • Various broth-based soups
  • “Pancakes” (Crepes stuffed with cheese, fruit, etc.)
  • Brinzici (A candy-bar-ish thing made of a cream-cheese-like sheep cheese coated in chocolate and sometimes filled with jam or other fillings. See pic.)

My hobbies – fun times

  • Self-studying Russian (using a language textbook I created with internet printouts…resourceful, right? Although I did have my first real Russian lesson today, which proved to be somewhat helpful in combating my atrocious pronunciation….)
  • Blogging (Obviously.)
  • Reading (See my reading list, below.)
  • Jogging (With two beautiful parks right by my house, I have no excuse not to.)
  • Exploring Chisinau (I love walking around new cities. And being shown around by new friends.)

My reading list – I came prepared

  • Underworld, Don DeLillo (Halfway done so far. DeLillo’s great.)
  • Lost Province: Adventures in a Moldovan Family, Stephen Henighan (Was not as interesting as it sounds. And a Moldovan friend seemed to find it sort of insulting/unrepresentative of Moldovan life.)
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, JK Rowling (Great plane reading and an important refresher – must prep for the EXCITEMENT that is the final installment debuting in July!)
  • American Pastoral, Philip Roth
  • Beloved, Toni Morrison (If you’re sensing a theme, it’s because several of these are from the NY Times’ “Best American Novels of the Past 25 Years” list. I love modern American fiction.)
  • Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami (One of my fave authors.)
  • Seeing, Jose Saramago (A spontaneous Borders “3 for 2” find. Looks good though.)

Current jogging soundtrack

  • Sweet Escape – Gwen Stefani
  • When You were Young – Killers
  • Fly Away – Tim McGraw
  • Wonderful Day – O.A.R.
  • Irreplaceable – Beyonce
  • Rehab – Amy Winehouse
  • Umbrella – Rihanna, ft. Jay-Z
  • Banditos – Refreshments
  • 19-2000 – Gorillaz
  • Seven – Prince
  • Girlfriend (Spanish) – Avril Lavigne
  • The Chronicles of Life and Death – Good Charlotte
  • La Vie Boheme – Rent Soundtrack
  • My Town – Buck-O-Nine

And that’s my life. Tell me about yours.